Photo: Felix Carroll
Laughter, tears, prayers, and rejoicing were the hallmarks of the Day of Reflection on Aug. 11, at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in Moriarty, N.M.
A Day of Reflection, an Exchange of Mercy
Fertile Ground in High Desert, Where Divine Mercy Takes Root
"Life is a valley of tears," says Dr. Bryan Thatcher. "We will suffer. We will have trials. But we have to keep on trusting our Lord."
"Early Church writers often prayed for the 'gift of tears,' " says Annie Karto, speaking to attendees of the Day of Reflection. "It would open their hearts and enable them to receive God's love and forgiveness."
Following the Day of Reflection came an evening for reflection as (from left) Annie Karto, Christopher Thatcher, Dr. Bryan Thatcher, Lee Bowers, and Tom and Barbara Christian gathered for dinner.
Southwest Airlines flight 2695 from Tampa, Fla., touches down in Albuquerque, N.M., just before 7 p.m., just as the sun starts sinking in earnest.
From out of the plane steps Dr. Bryan Thatcher and Annie Karto and Bryan's young son Christopher. The three meet up in the terminal with Lee Bowers, who just flew in from Texas.
Soon, they all have their luggage — suitcases filled with clothes, of course, but also with Divine Mercy materials, song lyrics, and written testimonies of how Christ has transformed their lives. The next day — Saturday, Aug. 11 — will be a big day. Bryan, Annie, and Lee have come to New Mexico to help convert hearts — to share with parishioners in the rural town of Moriarty what they know for certain about God's greatest attribute, mercy.
People will travel from as far as 60 miles. People like Ethel Trujillo and Anna Marie Villegas, who will emerge from the program feeling spiritually renewed. People like a woman named Bonnie who had an abortion 30 years ago and who will cry with joy listening to the testimonies as she finally realizes Jesus loves her and forgives her. People like Marlys Keenan, a local newspaper reporter who has nine stories due the following evening. But still, she'll come.
Because about three years ago, Marlys was, in her own words, "starving to death, spiritually." Then, she started reading the Diary of St. Faustina, written in the 1930s by a Polish nun who received extraordinary revelations from Jesus Christ.
Marlys couldn't put the Diary down.
Many of the 100 people who will come for the day-long program, called a "Day of Reflection," picked up the Diary at one point in their lives and could not put it down. For hearts that are broken, for lives that seem in ruins, for souls who yearn to know God and who seek closeness with Him, the Diary tends to have that effect.
They'll come in order to delve deeper into the message of Divine Mercy, a message that calls us to approach God in prayer, repenting for our sins and asking for His mercy; a call to be merciful to others, to extend love and forgiveness to others just as He does to us; and a call to completely trust in Jesus.
Bryan, Annie and Lee — members of the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy (EADM) — have put on these programs for more than 10 years in parishes throughout the United States.
Still, 10 years down the road, and the wattage never dims. Sunday morning, 14 hours after the event in Moriarty concludes, they'll all feel strangely the same: exhausted, like they just ran a marathon, but exhilarated, like they're ready to run another one. Bryan will get up in his hotel room in Moriarty. He'll pack his bags for his return trip home to Tampa. He'll shake his head in wonder.
"That was a powerful day," he'll say, folding a pair of socks as the sun peeks through the blinds. "What a job I have — I travel and meet these wonderful people who are trying to lead good lives. We help inspire them. But the thing is, they help to inspire us, too. It's an amazing thing."
People Need to Hear the Message'
Bryan and his team will leave knowing they have made new friends.
That will include Barbara Christian. It was her idea to bring the Day of Reflection to Estancia Valley Catholic Parish. Barbara, who lives in Moriarty, has a gift for breathing life into things. Literally. She's a paramedic in Albuquerque.
It could be people dying in an alleyway. It could be the beautiful garden that she planted and tends on the grounds of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Moriarty. It could be for her fellow parishioners themselves, to whom, with the cooperation of her pastor, Fr. William Young, she has recently introduced the Divine Mercy devotions.
"I feel that people need to hear the message out here," says Barbara. "What I'm hoping is that people from different parishes are inspired by this Day of Reflection and that they take the message of Divine Mercy back to their parishes."
Barbara and her husband, Tom, meet the members of EADM at the airport. They greet each other with hugs. They share a dinner together before Barbara and Tom drop Bryan, Annie, Lee, and Christopher off at the hotel for the evening.
By 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, everything is set at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The program will begin in a half hour. The sound of car tires crunching on gravel out on the church lot indicates the arrival of attendees.
Bag lunches have been prepared. Homemade signs are hung on the walls. One that quotes the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy: "For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world." It's already hot outside. Industrial-sized fans whirr in the parish hall, where the attendees start the morning with coffee and muffins that are arranged around a foot-high statue of The Divine Mercy.
Taking Root in the Desert
Our Lady of Mount Carmel is located out at the edge of Moriarty, a town that straddles the famous old Route 66. Desert sage and simple, low-slung houses with corrugated steel roofs disappear off into the vanishing point, off where the land meets the sky, which seems impossibly big and impossibly blue.
The church itself looks like something you'd see on a New Mexico postcard — beautiful in its simplicity, sheathed in desert beige stucco, with a tiny, maroon-colored bell tower that seems slightly tilted, as if its bell has been struck with more muscle, more zeal, than was originally intended or expected.
Through pockets of Divine Mercy devotees in the four churches that comprise Estancia Valley Catholic Parish, the message Divine Mercy has been ringing across these high desert plains for several years now. It's calling people like Jim and Betty Summer, from nearby Estancia, who enter the hall just after 8:30 a.m.
"Divine Mercy is big with my wife and me," explains Jim. So much so, that the two have embarked on a rather large work of mercy — founding a safe house for victims of domestic violence.
"My wife lost a sister to domestic violence in 1982," says Jim, who works as a bail bondsman, "and it's always laid heavy on her heart to do something about it." The house, called the Sanctuary Zone, is set to open this fall.
Judith Costello also enters. She talks of how this year Our Lady of Mount Carmel began the daily 3 o'clock devotion of praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy.
"It's a small group," she says, "but we're hoping it will grow as a result of this event today."
Father Young also walks in, giving a wave to the room. Ordained in the Archdiocese of New York in 1990, he came out to New Mexico 12 years ago to help with the priest shortage here, and now he never wants to leave.
"You can see for 20 miles here," he says. "I grew up in Rochester, N.Y., where with the trees and all, you can only see for 20 feet." In the grand panorama of the modern Church, Fr. Young says the message of Divine Mercy plays a crucial role.
He, himself, has had a devotion to The Divine Mercy for years. Later in the day, he'll tell the attendees about it. He'll tell them how the Diary provides "a deep and rich means by which we may grow in our spiritual lives."
"Here we have a cloistered nun, St. Faustina, who has much to write certainly about convent life, but her words are directly, in a sense, translatable into our lives as well, whether we're single people, divorced, married, parents, grandparents," he'll say.
He'll also ask everyone to pray for people "who do not, or will not, pray for mercy and forgiveness. Pray for people who do not think that God ever could, or would, forgive them."
United in Mercy
At 9 a.m., everyone files into the chapel where Annie has begun singing. "Holy, Holy, Holy is His name ..."
Father Young brings in a 1st-class relic of St. Faustina. When the music stops, he thanks Bryan, Annie and Lee for coming (and Chistopher, too, who is 10 and who spends the day singing and helping his father). Father Young also thanks God for the message of Divine Mercy, "this beautiful expression He gives us through St. Faustina of His powerful divine love." And he prays for God's help that all present "remain faithful to the gift of our Catholic faith."
And so, the Day of Reflection begins.
"We come from far away, but we're united in a greater understanding of the mercy of God," says Bryan. "We come here as fellow Catholics and sinners trying to walk the walk.
"Bring all of your hopes and worries and trials, and leave them here," he tells everyone. "And when you go home, we hope you leave here as light as a feather."
Bryan, who founded EADM back in 1995, knows that feeling. He first felt it in the early 1990s when, through the message of Divine Mercy, he experienced a powerful conversion. That was just after he had hit "bottom," as he says. He was working long hours as a "high society, successful physician." His marriage was falling apart. He rarely saw his children. He rarely practiced his faith.
He was hurting. Then, a friend gave him a copy of the Diary.
"Some of the words really jumped out at me," Bryan tells the attendees, "and they really touched me." The most obvious passage, he says, is the one in which Jesus tells St. Faustina, "The greater the sinner, the greater the right he has to My mercy" (723).
"I began to read the Diary, and I began to feel hope," Bryan says. So inspired was he, that he founded EADM, which has become a worldwide group that promotes Divine Mercy through prayer cenacles, works of mercy, Eucharistic adoration, and praying the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy for the sick and dying. EADM is a lay outreach of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, a religious congregation whom Pope John Paul II gave the special task of spreading the message of Divine Mercy.
In his talk, Bryan urges attendees to be Christlike in their daily lives. Forgiveness, he says, "opens the door to receiving God's mercy. How can we love the God we cannot see if we cannot love the brothers and sisters we can see?"
Through Divine Mercy — lived in the home and in the workplace — mankind can begin to solve the greatest problems it faces today, Bryan says. "We need to pray that God changes our hearts," he says. "We need to let our hearts be turned to hearts of flesh, of love, of caring. And that will change the family and people at work, and we'll begin to see healing. Through Divine Mercy, we truly will transform the world."
'Jesus Chose to Emphasize His Mercy'
At one point in her Diary, St. Faustina records how Christ once commanded her, "Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace" (1074).
Lee quotes that passage in her talk, a talk that gives the basics of the Divine Mercy message and devotion and its historical context.
Saint Faustina died at the age of 33, Lee says, "one year before the outbreak of World War II, a war she had foretold, even indicating its extent and horrors. This was at a time when some Catholics had an image of God as such a strict Judge that they might be tempted to despair about the possibility of being forgiven."
Through St. Faustina, Lee says, "Jesus chose to emphasize His mercy and forgiveness for sins acknowledged and confessed."
Then, Lee quotes from the Diary, when Jesus says, "I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart" (1588).
A Need Only God Can Fulfill
Annie, whose musical CDs feature songs that promote Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacraments, Mary, religious vocations, and respect for the sanctity of life, tells attendees how she came to dedicate her life to spreading Divine Mercy.
She left home at 17 to marry her high school sweetheart. With much heartache, six years later she found herself divorced with two small boys. Almost immediately, she began searching for someone to fill the deep void in her soul — a need that only God can fill.
"In haste, I remarried outside the Church, much to the dismay of my parents," Annie says, "In 1989, my mother invited me to their home in the Ozark Mountains. At that time, my present marriage was in serious trouble, and I felt like a failure in so many areas in my life. I remember sitting in the chapel in front of Jesus exposed in the monstrance. A storm had rolled in, and thunder was echoing off the mountains. I could not take my eyes off of Jesus in the monstrance. I felt paralyzed before Him, and I realized with a new awareness, He could see every sin and defect in my character. All was exposed before Him, and I felt ashamed and broken.
"I cried many tears that night. But, instead of feeling condemned, I felt a river of mercy flood my soul, as if washing it clean," Annie continued. "I experienced such a tender love and forgiveness for all my sins and poor choices.
"The next day, I knew I must go to confession, and as I walked in, I noticed The Divine Mercy image on the wall. The priest, a family friend, looked at me with tenderness. I remember him saying, 'How many people do you think are out there like you, Annie? God's people who are broken, sinful, in need of healing?'"
He then encouraged her to spread the message of Divine Mercy the rest of her life. Great miracles of healing have followed. She was able to have her marriage blessed in the Church.
Annie concludes with words of St. Faustina, who wrote, "The Mercy of the Lord I will sing forever. Before all the people will I sing it. For it is God's greatest attribute. And for us an unending miracle" (Diary of St. Faustina, 522).
Source of Strength
Meanwhile, Marlys, the reporter, is one of several in the audience with tears in their eyes. While listening to the talks she's thinking of her son who was killed in a car accident in January. She explains later that he suffered many years from drug addiction and sin. But two years ago, he showed up at midnight Mass. She remembers. She saw him coming down the center aisle.
"He's with me today," Marlys says. "I can feel his presence. And I know that because of St. Faustina, Christ has granted my son mercy at the hour of his death. I know everything is OK."
Despite having so many newspaper stories to write by tomorrow evening, Marlys isn't worried. She's here because, among the other things she knows for certain, "Every minute I give to God, He gives back to me, and more," she says.
Bonnie is among the others crying tears of joy. Annie, as she was singing, noticed Bonnie. "Just seeing her face inspired me as I was up there singing," Annie later says.
Bonnie had an abortion 30 years ago. And even though she confessed her sin, she was unable to experience the forgiveness she had received. Instead, she continued to struggle with feelings of guilt and shame.
"But here, today, for the first time," she says, "I experienced the forgiveness that I've never experienced before. I had a burden lifted from my shoulders today. I can go forward now."
The Day of Reflection ends with Holy Mass. Afterwards, Barbara and her husband Tom bring Bryan, Annie, Lee and Christopher back to their house for a lasagna dinner. Father Young joins them. They say grace. Then, afterwards, there's a brief silence. Barbara folds her hands together and says, with a beaming smile, "It was a beautiful day."
If you are interested in having EADM bring a Day of Reflection to your parish, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 877-380-0727.